Domestic violence rips at the fabric of our community, tearing too many Delaware homes apart. These crimes devastate the emotional and physical well-being of individual victims and have a multigenerational effect on the children of those victims.
Among the best tools law enforcement officers have for combatting crimes of domestic violence are the programs created and sustained by the Violence Against Women Act, landmark legislation first authored by Delaware's Joe Biden.
Since its initial passage in 1994, the rate of intimate partner violence in this country has declined by 67 percent. VAWA funds are used to train over half a million law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges and other personnel every year, and since its last reauthorization, nearly 3,400 women and children sought the safety of shelters in Delaware and over 21,000 calls were made to local crisis hotlines.
The Violence Against Women Act is working -- but we still have much to do to address evolving needs in the fight against domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking.
That's why it is long past time for the Violence Against Women Act to be reauthorized by Congress. Programs that Delaware victims of domestic violence depend on for transitional housing, legal assistance and more are at stake, as well as support for a coordinated community response to domestic violence.
The Senate passed a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act by a broad bipartisan majority last year. I worked to strengthen the bill on the Judiciary Committee, so I was proud to co-sponsor it.
This bill would have provided critical support to law enforcement, promoted accountability and made tough cuts to save money while protecting the programs that have been the most successful.
Yet, Republicans in the House of Representatives refused to act on it before the end of the last Congress.
On Tuesday the Senate passed the bipartisan legislation for a second time.
Despite earning overwhelming bipartisan support in the Senate, action in the House is anything but guaranteed.
Delawareans are tired of waiting for this long overdue reauthorization. This week, some of our state's top law enforcement officers and community leaders spoke out to call for action without delay.
Carol Post, the executive director of the Delaware Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said the Violence Against Women Act is one of the major reasons for Delaware's improved, strengthened and coordinated community response to domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. She said that we cannot afford to lose the ground we have gained over the last 20 years.
Wilmington Police Chief Christine Dunning echoed her call for quick action, saying that violence against women is a pervasive issue, not only in the City of Wilmington, but throughout the state.
Dunning added that in order to combat this violence, additional resources must be dedicated to ensure women's safety.
There is no question that the Violence Against Women Act has been effective. It has saved lives, brought what was once a crime cloaked in silence and darkness out into the light, and dramatically increased arrests and prosecutions for crimes of domestic and sexual violence.
Delawareans have spoken out, loudly and clearly, to say that no matter who you are and no matter whom you love, you deserve the chance to live free from violence and fear.
Reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act is a first step toward delivering that fundamental freedom to men, women and children across this country.
Now, it is time for the United States House of Representatives to act and take that step forward -- without any further delay.
To read the op-ed on the News Journal's website, click here: